The Messages of Gratitude

Lesson 1995
Tags: Thanksgiving; Gratitude
Excerpted from Thanksgiving in the New Testament: An Inductive Study

The following five statements are implicit in every genuine expression of thanksgiving. They may rarely be uttered audibly, but they are nevertheless communicated. They are indeed essential to gratitude; without them gratitude cannot subsist. It is likely that those who find thanksgiving an arduous activity are restrained by their unwillingness to affirm one or more of the messages of gratitude.

A. Message One: The Futility of Autonomy

Present within a grateful heart is the persuasion that the best life is one of humble dependence on God. Thankful people are convinced that it is much better to rely on the blessings of God, than to attempt to make it through the obstacle course of life unaided. Conversely, ingrates are those who are so proud that they fail to acknowledge God; they prefer to live in professed autonomy. Paul describes them in the following words:

“Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom 1.21).

“The best life is one of humble dependence on God.”

To be thankful, then, is to admit the futility of autonomy, and to confess one’s utter reliance on God for everything.

B. Message Two: The Wisdom of God

It has been said many a time, “God is too wise to be mistaken,” and this is the attitude of gratitude. Thankful people are such because they recognize that God will always deal with them with a wisdom greater than their own. A thankful spirit, then, attests to the wisdom of God, affirming, “God knows what is best for me.”

The acknowledgment of God’s wisdom seems to be present in a prayer of thanksgiving uttered by Jesus during his earthly life. Jesus recognized the wisdom of God’s plan in revealing himself to “babes” who were of little earthly esteem.

“God knows what is best for me.”

“In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him” (Lk 10.21-22).

C. Message Three: The Goodness of God

Gratitude is saturated with the conviction that God has one’s best interests at heart, i.e., that God is truly good. It follows, then, that a thankful person’s testimony is, “God desires to give the best to me.” Paul expressed this sentiment when he thanked Christ for giving him a place in the ministry in spite of his past sins.

“And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Tim 1.12-13).

“God desires to give the best to me.”

Paul also acknowledged God’s goodness when he thanked him for food, having survived a dangerous ordeal in the sea.

“And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat” (Acts 27.35).

D. Message Four: The Power of God

A fourth message is expressed by the thankful heart: “God is able to give the best to me.” A grateful individual knows that God not only wants his or her best, but is powerful to give it. The apostle Paul certainly understood this truth, and his thanksgiving is therefore an exemplary testimony to the power of God.

“God is able to give the best to me.”

“But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15.57).

“Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place” (2 Cor 2.14).

E. Message Five: The Glory of God

Thanksgiving culminates in the promulgation of a fifth message: “God has given the best to me.” This message supersedes the previous messages, which attested to the wisdom, goodness, and power of God. It is a not a statement of God’s attributes, but of his activity on one’s behalf. This message of gratitude is perhaps best exemplified by the Samaritan leper whom Jesus healed.

“God has given the best to me.”

“And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger” (Lk 17.15-18).

Note that the leper’s thanksgiving is depicted as giving glory to God. Paul reaffirms this concept in his second epistle to the church at Corinth.

“For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God” (2 Cor 4.15).

The bottom line, then, is that God is glorified when we thank him for the provisions of his grace. The ultimate goal of our gratitude must be the glory of God, and it is achieved when we humbly acknowledge that God has given us what is best.

Related Resources: The Peril of Prosperity